Alaina is many things: a rising senior at Upper Dublin High School, a busy athlete who plays soccer and basketball, and a bright and enthusiastic student whose most recent accomplishment was to earn an impressive 1430 on the SAT after working with A+ Test Prep and Tutoring. The knowledge and encouragement of her tutors, combined with Alaina’s own curiosity and drive, were what helped her through the ups and downs of test prep to ultimately improve her score by 180 points! We recently spoke with Alaina and her tutors, Josh Woratyla and Melissa Nash, for more insight into this inspiring achievement.
A+: Let’s start at the beginning. How did you find A+?
ALAINA: I work with someone who helps with college and school, kind of like a counselor but outside of school. Her name is Tina Gregor, and she works for College Pursuit. She referred me to A+.
A+: Your test prep was a little unconventional in that you worked with one tutor to prepare for the December SAT, then a different tutor to prepare for the May SAT. What was it like doing tutoring over a long period of time with two different tutors for two different tests?
ALAINA: I really liked both tutors. The first time, it was all kind of new. It was my first time taking the SAT, so I was more nervous about it. I liked my tutor, but then I had a break after I took my first SAT, and then I got a new tutor. I liked my second tutor and learned a lot from her. After taking the practice tests, I felt better, less nervous, and I felt like I was doing better.
Josh Woratyla, Alaina’s first tutor, was “glad she had a positive experience” and describes working with her as “a pleasure.” According to him, “Working with Alaina was easy and fun. She always had her work done and was engaged during sessions. She learned quickly and was very bright.” Woratyla believes that he and Alaina made a good team, too. “The bond Alaina and I formed definitely helped make the experience more effective,” says Woratyla. “She trusted my judgment and focused on what was emphasized during sessions, which helped her studying and practice work.”
After taking the December SAT, Alaina took a short break. She restarted test prep a few months later with Melissa Nash, who helped Alaina prepare for the May SAT. Nash also enjoyed working with Alaina, describing her as “a great person to work with.” Nash adds that Alaina “was attentive, asked great questions, and worked hard” and credits Alaina’s “positive attitude” as what “really contributed to her progress.”
A+: Each tutor worked with you on both subjects. Is there a particular topic that you found more challenging?
ALAINA: Verbal was more of a challenge for me. With math it was more about just remembering it, because I had recently learned it, so mostly I had to refresh my memory. With verbal, the most difficult part was grammar. I would take practice tests and do better on one category, like commas, then not do as well on something else, like semicolons, which I don’t tend to use often. So, it was challenging just to be patient working through each one and relearning grammar concepts that I hadn’t really been exposed to much since middle school.
Whether it was math or verbal, Alaina and her tutors all agree that taking each skill step by step was essential. Woratyla recalls working “through everything systematically,” while Nash notes that when it seemed Alaina “was stuck at a certain score level, encouraging her that small steps could make a big difference in the end” really helped. Patience and perseverance weren’t all Alaina needed, however. She also needed to make time for test prep.
A+: You had to juggle a busy sports schedule with tutoring. Can you describe what that was like or give any tips to students who might be in a similar situation?
ALAINA: Before my first test, my schedule wasn’t as busy but I strangely found it harder to stay on top of all of the work and stay focused. But then I found that taking the practice tests as homework before my second test was a lot better, just because I was eager to see how well I was doing. I wanted to take the tests, because I wanted to see if I was doing better. It forced me to make time for myself, even if it meant doing some work in the car on the way to practice. So, I was busy, but I was highly motivated to do better.
A+: Making progress can be different for everyone: some do it gradually, some do it erratically. What was your experience?
ALAINA: I didn’t improve right away. The first diagnostic test I took, my score actually went down ten points, and then after tutoring for my first official SAT, I only improved by ten points. It was upsetting, because I had worked hard and felt like I had learned a lot more, but there wasn’t proof of that. I didn’t want to take the next SAT right away, so I took a little break. When I got started up again, progress didn’t happen immediately. However, I feel like I put more time into preparing and was less stressed about it. My second tutor was really smart and really helpful in making me feel less worried and more prepared. It still took six weeks of tutoring, so I didn’t get better right away, but it definitely seemed to happen faster. Still, I was super surprised by my score. Based on my practice, I thought I was going to be in the 1300s, which I would have been happy with. So, getting a 1430 made me honestly (and pleasantly) surprised.
A+: What do you think contributed most to your ability to improve over time?
ALAINA: I did a lot of practice tests, which helped me a lot because I could actually see my progress. I also felt like my tutor was very encouraging.
A+: After everything you’ve been through and accomplished, what advice can you give students who are just starting or considering test prep?
ALAINA: Don’t overwhelm yourself or be too hard on yourself. It can be a long process and a lot to learn, so try not to give up and keep working hard. At times you might want to give up or just be satisfied with your score, but you can always try to do better.
A+: Now, let’s look ahead. What colleges and careers are you interested in?
ALAINA: I’m thinking about playing soccer in college, and I’m interested in the health field. I’ve seen a lot of colleges, but so far I like Lehigh, Gettysburg, and Tufts. There are some more up north that I like too: Boston College and Fordham come to mind.
With her wise words and impressive work ethic, it’s clear any college Alaina attends will be lucky to have her. Congratulations, Alaina, on all of your success!
At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, our practices are based on the latest developments in educational theory and research. We have an excellent team of tutors who can help you with standardized testing, executive functioning, or achievement in any other school subject. If you want to find out more about our services, our Client Service Directors Joelle Faucette and Michelle Giagnacovo can be reached at 215-886-9188.